US Evangelist Jailed in Russia over Hunting Ammunition

News from Russia:

A Moscow court has sentenced a US pastor to more than three years in jail for illegally importing hunting rifle ammunition into Russia.

The pastor is Phillip Miles of Christ Community Church in South Carolina. Miles has been a visitor to Russia for many years, where he has undertaken mission-related activities, and in February he decided to bring a case of hunting cartridges to a friend, Eduard Grabovenko, in Perm. A Russian article translated on this site gives further details. Apparently, the cartridges were noticed by customs when Miles arrived in Russia:

Seeing a suspicious-looking box, they asked the pastor what it was. The pastor honestly replied: these are bullets, which I’m taking to my friend in Perm.

They drew up a report, confiscated the bullets, and allowed the pastor to fly on to Perm. Upon returning from Perm, on 3 February of this year, they detained the pastor right at Sheremetyevo, presenting him with a charge of having committed a crime under Article 222 – “unlawful acquisition, transfer, sale, storage, transport or bearing of weaponry, component parts thereof, munitions, explosive substances and explosive devices”.

…However, soon after, yet another Article was added to 222: Article 188 – contraband. Now this is considered a “serious” crime. Under it, the term of punishment is up to seven years.

The author of this article, Grigory Pasko, was himself once imprisoned for espionage after investigating environmental degradation in Sea of Japan, and so he takes a rather sceptical view:

Come on, do you really expect me to believe that the procuracy investigator, when tacking on Article 188 to the already-existent Article 222, honestly didn’t understand that the “contraband” charge was clearly excessive? Of course he understood. Because there was no intentional premeditated concealment of the bullets from customs control (they weren’t under something that would have screened them or hidden inside something); there was no fact of misleading declaration of goods; there were no counterfeit documents used… That is, many of those items that form the body of a crime under Article 188 were clearly not evident here.

Predictably, a resolution in the South Carolina General Assembly insisting in “the strongest terms that the Russian government release Pastor Miles from his imprisonment” has failed to have any effect.

Phillip Miles is the son of Bishop Houston Miles, a former pastor with the Assemblies of God and associate of some high-profile neo-Pentecostal leaders. He is also the founder of Evangel Fellowship International. According to Houston Miles’s website:

Today, EFI has 36 missionaries serving in countries around the world.  In 1991, we launched “Operation Russia”, an effort to take the gospel to the Russian people.  In 1992, we did 25 evangelistic campaigns throughout Russia.  Many additional campaigns were done in the following years.  I personally, with a team from my church, did six crusades a year for several years.  Thousands of people surrendered their lives to Christ.  Everyone who attended a crusade was given a New Testament in the Russian language.

In 1993, I printed 5,000 copies of a book I wrote entitled, Sermon on the Mount in the Russian language.  These books were distributed throughout Russia…Today we are working with 672 churches in that country.  My 45th trip to Russia was in October 2007.

Doubtless this has annoyed the Russian Orthodox Church, and one wonders if nationalist sentiment has played a part in the draconian sentence meted out to Phillip Miles. The recipient of the hunting cartridges, Eduard Grabovenko, featured in the 2006 U.S.A. State Department Report on International Religious Freedom:

According to a May 2005 article in the Perm newspaper Permskiy Obozrevatel, in late 2004 the Pentecostal New Testament Church in Perm purchased the local House of Culture from a private company to house its social and charitable activities. The purchase provoked considerable controversy in the area, reportedly encouraged in part by the local ROC Bishop Irinarkh, a long-time critic of Pentecostals. The case went to an arbitration court, which ultimately recognized the sale as legal and valid but did not issue a ruling that would bind the owner to proceed with the registration. The Pentecostals paid 50 million rubles ($1,851,851) for the House of Culture and were using it for their services, but they were not registered as the owners at the end of the reporting period. According to Pastor Eduard Grabovenko, oblast administration officials had put pressure on the owner to block registration. On May 11, 2006, the New Testament Church filed a suit asking the court to issue an order that would permit property rights registration without the former owner’s cooperation.

Further, this appeared in 2007:

A statement by the secretary of the Syktyvkar and Vorkuta diocese of the Russian Orthodox church of the Moscow patriarchate, Hegumen Filipp, requesting that the Directorate of the Federal Security Service (UFSB) “pay attention” to the preaching activity of an evangelist from England, David Hasavy [sic: this must be David Hathaway – RB], appears to be a regular threat, behind which is an attempt to frighten people away for evangelical churches. This was stated in an interview at the press service of the Slavic Legal Center by the pastor of the “Spring of Life” Pentecostal church, Pavel Kudrov. The church is a member of the Association of Independent Churches of Christians of Evangelical Faith, which is a member of the Russian Associated Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith (ROSKhVE). The church belongs to the Perm diocesan administration of KhVE, which is headed by Bishop Eduard Grabovenko.

How convenient that Grabovenko (who is also associated with Oral Roberts University) should now find himself discredited by association with a convicted “arms smuggler”!

The fate of Phillip Miles comes several months after a Korean-American missionary was detained in Sakhalin on suspicion of attempting to bribe an official; the Sakhalin Times reported on the latest developments just a few days ago:

This week a missionary from the USA, Pastor of Kholmsk Church “Good Fortune” – 66-year old Pak Khio Sun and his lawyer Vyacheslav Zhigalov will start to get acquainted with the materials of the criminal case against him.

Last week the translation into the Korean language of three volumes of criminal evidence was completed. This week the Pastor, who does not know Russian and has poor English, will start to get acquainted with materials of this criminal case as translated into Korean.

Also last year, the governor of the Russian region of Tula announced that he had uncovered an unnamed American “secret service officer” working for a religious organisation, and the Pasko article reminds us of the 2003 Andrew Okhotin case. Okhotin, an American citizen and Harvard Divinity Student, was accused of trying to smuggle $48,000 into Russia, which he claimed was for local churches. Okhotin had a customs declaration and a letter explaining the purpose of the funds, but was arrested after taking the wrong line through customs. He got away with a suspended sentence, but the money was confiscated.

An American evangelist was also recently jailed on weapons charges in Uganda, although he was soon released; I blogged on this here.

Spelling variations: Philip Miles; Edward Grabovyenko; Eduard Grobovenko; Eduard Anatolyevich Grabovenko; Pak Hio Sun; Pak Hyo Sung; Park Hyo Sun

One Response

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